Darth Vader, Voldemort… Is it possible to avoid the “Darth Vader Move” where you can slip into the “dark side of the force?”  And, is this move to the dark side possible at any stage of the spiritual path? What the Ageless Wisdom and Integral approaches both have to say including how they are alike and how they differ. 

Recently, I listened to an excellent audio by Ken Wilber on the “Darth Vadar” move.  For the small minority on the planet who may not be aware of Star Wars and Darth Vader (are there such people?), the “Darth Vader” move is when someone moves to the “dark side of the force” and the person on a very promising spiritual path goes “dark” and starts to use their powers for evil (live spelled backwards implying evil is anti the life impulse of the whole).  Going to the “dark side of the force” is not a new concept.  In the Ageless Wisdom teachings there has long been the tradition of “black magicians” — a phrase that is not very socially and politically correct now-a-days, and perhaps it would be better in our modern era to say evil magicians, or sociopathic magicians, or just plain selfish magicians. After all anyone regardless of race, sex, culture, etc. can fit into the “evil” category.  In truth be told, most of us are in the selfish mode already to some degree making us “gray” magicians in Ageless Wisdom terms, possessing some selfish and unselfish motives within us. Acknowledging this, in listening to Ken Wilber speak about this whole Darth Vader thing, there was one part of what he said that the Ageless Wisdom traditions unfortunately do not agree with.

Ken implies that anyone at any stage can do “Darth.” In a way I am not surprised that Ken says this. Those involved in the Integral tradition have had a history of some of their once heroes doing “Darth” to some degree.  Most of these former heroes were part of the “crazy wisdom” tradition.  These include Da Free John (who later called himself Adi Da and other names) and Chogyam Trungpa who delved into “sex, drugs, rock and roll” and were later accused of various abuses despite their seemingly high spiritual status.  Then there is Marc Gafni, who is part of the Integral tradition and a rabbi accused of sexual abuse who has been disavowed by numerous fellow rabbis around the world.  And, more recently, there has been Andrew Cohen, for many years a close associate with Wilber and Integral, who after reaching the height of his fame in 2012, was forced into a sabbatical by his many followers because they could no longer hide the extensive allegations of verbal and physical abuse in his ashram.  He remains on sabbatical to this day. No wonder, Wilber feels as he does.  Time and again people he champions go “Darth.” It can seem natural to assume that going “Darth” is a potential within all of us.

To some extent this is true.  It’s just that the Ageless Wisdom traditions have had a long standing different take on what it means to be spiritual.  Unlike what Ken asserts there is a point in the Ageless Wisdom traditions where the risk of going “Darth” doesn’t exist anymore. But, to understand this we have to distinguish between how Integral and the Ageless Wisdom traditions speak of the spiritual path in the first place. Knowing these differences stops us from being overly naive and helps to anticipate when supposed spiritual leaders are not really as advanced as we think they are, and how others may be much more advanced than we suppose.

To start with in the Ageless Wisdom tradition there are certain stages on the spiritual path where the kinds of “crazy wisdom” behaviors and going “Darth” are actually very predictable. And, until one passes the tests of going “Darth” one is not said to be trust worthy enough to be a member of the “spiritual hierarchy,” which is comprised of those Bodhisattvas who are dedicated to the upliftment of humanity and even at one point all sentient beings.

To give a brief overview, everyone who has not passed the “third initiation” (expansion of consciousness, or third enlightenment experience), exists in the stage of spiritual growth (Group 9 and below) where the full mastery over the three lower chakras representing power, sex/pleasure, and money does not exist. In short, the temptation to abuse or over indulge in power, sex/pleasure, and money is ever pervasive.  And, as the Ageless Wisdom teachings point out, all of these temptations come to a head at the end of the second initiation, just before one takes the third.

But, let me backtrack a bit for those not too familiar with Ageless Wisdom stages and terms. I will begin by inserting this chart that I recently created along these lines.

Levels and Terms

Without going into extensive detail, I will briefly mention that true spiritual life in the Ageless Wisdom traditions does not really begin until one understands the principle of sacrifice. This word, sacrifice, is something that pretty much leaves a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths. Especially in Western culture we are taught that there is no need to sacrifice. Even within many spiritual traditions like New Thought and some modern day Christian sects like Joel Olsteen’s, we are taught that the purpose of life is to have it all! These approaches are rooted in the Calvinisitc Christian notion that prosperity is actually proof of one’s spiritual success. In the Christian Calvin version, you are successful because you have chosen the right spiritual group (typically their version of what Christianity looks like). As John D. Rockefeller proclaimed, “God gave me my money” (meaning I deserve to be the richest person on Earth because God wanted me to be this way, not because I might have been selfish, egotistical and brutal in acquiring it). In the New Thought version derived originally from the Calvin view, I deserve all my success not because I am in the right group, but because “I thought right” and used the “Law of Attraction” in the right way to get whatever I wanted to indulge in.  Anyone who doesn’t have a prosperous life is simply not “thinking or attracting well enough” or has “limiting beliefs” that prevent them from having mega abundance and success.  Here going “Darth” is actually glorified as a great thing!  Sure, you may not be killing people and blowing up planets with your Death Star, but the egotistical notion that you can have whatever you want and not sacrifice anything in the process, despite who or what might be suffering gives way to enabling a Death Star whether you like it or not. (Just look at how the ideology of mass consumption is destroying numerous species, creating global warming and destroying the entire planet in the process).

The ideologies suggested above actually begin to be perpetuated by primarily those at Group 6/Integral Orange, who tend to have enough of what the Ageless Wisdom teachings call an Integrated Personality (thoughts, feelings, and body managed enough), to be a success in the material world. They become “gods and goddesses” in their own minds, or to use actual language used in some New Thought circles “Masters of the Universe!” The seeds of the Darth Vader move are planted here and as we get into later stages of the spiritual path these seeds can justify the movement into going “Darth” without one realizing they are headed that way at all. Why? Because of the entire aversion to the word “sacrifice” and to the distorted understanding of what true sacrifice is all about.

As you see in the chart of Terms above the spiritual path involves a deep understanding of the sacrifice word. The word sacrifice appears first of all at Petal Three of the Egoic Lotus known as the Knowledge/Sacrifice petal.  This petal is related to Group 4/Integral Amber. But, as the Ageless Wisdom teachings say this is a sacrifice that seems forced upon you. Death, taxes, old age, disease, heart-break — why does “god” do all these bad things to seemingly good people? The Group 4/Integral Amber group has a hard time making sense of it all. Why is there so much unfairness in the world? Or to use another phrase, “Why me? Why am I suffering like this?” (The notion that everyone suffers and the phrase “Why not me?” does not occur to them, because sacrifice and suffering is not seen as a way to break the “heart open” to use a phrase made popular from Buddhist Nobel Peace Prize winner, Thich Nhat Hanh).

By the time one reaches the Orange and Green levels the individual has figured out that maybe this unfairness is less due to “god” and more due to a lack of personal empowerment and skill.  If I can just get enough power, control, money and influence then maybe I don’t have to sacrifice, maybe I don’t have to suffer. I can use that power and money to have all the sex/pleasure I want! Sacrifice I assert, is just some notion made up by some controlling religion designed to suppress the masses (and people like me) from having good times forever more.

By the time we reach Group Seven/Green there is a conflict regarding sacrifice. Diving into Petal Six, we learn to “Love/Sacrifice.”  Having saturated our consumption desires at Group 6/Orange we discover that there may be some problems with having it all. Global warming is just one example.  Maybe in learning to love sacrifice we can appreciate that there is something to being less selfish in our desires. Slowly, sacrifice begins to be perceived (if ever so slightly) in a different way.

As we get to Group 8 (which is a combination of Green, Teal, and even Turquoise in the Integral levels), we reach what is known as the First Initiation in the Ageless Wisdom teachings. We move into the “sacrifice petals” and sacrifice takes on a whole new meaning and approach. Sacrifice relates to the notion of discipleship or discipline!  And, here is where the distortion between material and spiritual life can continue.  With greater discipline and an increased access to the inner realms, psychic powers (siddhis) can emerge. We learn how to “use the force.” Still primarily selfish and unwilling to sacrifice our egos, we tend to rationalize and spiritualize psychic powers (and siddhis) as proof of our advanced spiritual standing, instead of proof that we are just infants at a spiritual level. (Note: the first initiation is known as the birth initiation for precisely this reason, we are newbies at true spiritual development, but like the self-centered and immature infant we don’t yet recognize it).

Moving to Group 9/Integral Turquoise and the Second Initiation, we discover that we have even greater access to siddhis.  We have even greater control of our mental, emotional, and physical realms. But, control is not the same as wisdom.  Head is not the same as heart. By the Third Initiation the heart (including the spiritual heart) is wedded with the head.  Before that Third Initiation is achieved in both Christian and Buddhist literature three temptations emerge. The three temptations Jesus received in the desert, and the three temptations Buddha experienced under the Bodhi tree are remarkably the same. What these temptations represent is not being submerged by the personal desires for power, sex/pleasure, and money in sacrifice to the personality instead of to the soul.

When we give into the siddhis, when we give in to power, sex/pleasure, and money for personal gain (usually so we can have more power, sex/pleasure, and money under a spiritual or noble guise), the Darth Vader move begins. And, it’s not crazy wisdom. Fortunately, as I have heard Ken Wilber himself say in recent years, it’s just crazy!  Maybe that is why traditional religious systems focus so much on ethics!  Take the Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali for example.  Before you even begin to cultivate siddhi powers, one needs to master the “yamas and niyamas.”  These are the eight-fold ethical disciplines that help to ensure sacrifice for the good of the whole, an inclusive consciousness, and a loving and harmless heart are in place first. Master these things and prove you have mastered them by passing the three temptations and you demonstrate that you can “enter the Master’s heart,” which is akin to the loving, kind, wise and sacrificial heart that Jesus points to. That heart is vulnerable and exposed. That heart is not shielded and protected by machinery. The sacrificial heart of Jesus acts for the good of the whole and no longer needs the machinery of Darth Vader, which is designed to prevent vulnerability and keep the true workings of the ego (even the ugly/shadow stuff) from being exposed and dealt with once and for all. Fail to sacrifice, fail to took at your shadow, fail to deal with your ego and at some point the Darth Vader move will be inevitable. Embrace being vulnerable, look at your shadow, practice loving kindness, selflessness, harmlessness and sacrifice your ego and the Darth Vader move is not a place you have to go. Yes, it’s work, but it is loving work. Jesus or Darth Vader? Only a loving, joyful, humble and sacrificial heart will show us what path to choose.

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